Journey of Salahuddin: From elections to global terrorist

Journey of Salahuddin: From elections to global terrorist

The story of Syed Salahuddin, the chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, who is declared as the global terrorist by US State Department, is unique in itself.

Born in a middle-class family in Soibugh area of Central Kashmir's Budgam district in 1946, as Mohammad Yosuf Shah, he adopted his current name Salahuddin in early '90's after becoming chief of Hizbul.

Father of five sons and two daughters, Salahuddin graduated from prestigious SP College in Srinagar and later did a master's degree in political science from the Kashmir University in 1971. Recounting Salahuddin's sermons at Exhibition Ground Masjid in Srinagar during mid '80's, Bashir Ahmad, a septuagenarian said, "Every Friday, hundreds of people, mostly youth, would wait eagerly to hear his fiery speeches where besides religion he would also speak about Kashmir's problem."

He later joined Jamat-e-Islami, a religion-political organisation. However, the turning point in Salahuddin's life came in 1987 when Muslim United Front (MUF), a 'polyglot coalition' of Islamic Kashmiri political parties decided to contest Assembly elections. Salahuddin was MUF's candidate for Srinagar's Amirakadal constituency.

"When Salahuddin, clad in a shroud, was introduced to people on 4 March, 1987 in Iqbal Park Srinagar, the scenes were historic. More than 100,000 people attended the memorable rally. The building-up to the 1987 elections was euphoric," Ahmad recalls.

However, what followed was 'black chapter' in the democracy of the country as the elections were allegedly rigged by then National Conference government supported by Congress party, which is in power at the Centre. The alleged rigging proved a catalyst for ‘secessionism’ in Kashmir.

Salahuddin along with his supporters and hundreds of MUF polling agents and campaigners were jailed and tortured for months together. After his release, he drifted to militancy and took over as the chief of the indigenous Hizbul in 1991. It is reported that he crossed over to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) in the later half of 1993 and has been the base since then. In an interview to media last year in PoK, he claimed the main reason that compelled him to take up weapons was the 'bogus, rigged and planted' elections in J&K.

In the same interview, Salahuddin, who also heads the United Jihad Council, an umbrella of militant organisations, threatened to train Kashmiri suicide bombers, and vowed to turn the Kashmir valley “into a graveyard for Indian forces" in September 2016. He is also said to have contacts with Lashker-e-Toiba founder Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

On Monday, he called for a week-long agitation in Kashmir to mark the first death anniversary of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani. Burhan was killed in an encounter by security forces on July 8 last year. His death triggered one of the worst periods of unrest in Kashmir, in which more than 90 civilians were killed in five months of street protests.

Salahuddin's family lives in the valley with his sons and daughters employed in government jobs in the state. One of his sons, 31-year-old Syed Mueed - an information technology manager in the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) - was among the 100-odd civilians evacuated by security forces from institute’s building on Srinagar outskirts when fidayeen (suicide) militants had stormed into it last year in February.

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